sex

Review: Doing It!: Let’s Talk About Sex by Hannah Witton

Doing It!: Let's Talk About Sex
Doing It!: Let’s Talk About Sex by Hannah Witton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As ever, I’m super behind on reviews so let’s review Doing It! by Hannah Witton…

**This book was sent to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Doing It: Let’s Talk About Sex is Hannah’s first book and it’s a non-fiction discussion about loads of different topics, most of which are around sex and relationships. There’s talk about toxic relationships, masturbation, slut shaming and puberty in here, and it is so so welcome. Sex and relationship education is so lacking in so many countries (although today it’s been announced that there will be an overhaul in the UK – yay!) and these books are so important in the education of young people.

Hannah talks frankly and openly on so many ‘taboo’ topics like how she lost her virginity, her periods, masturbation, etc. and this is what makes the book so great – this isn’t a textbook, it’s a informative discussion with personal experiences from the author who is still a young woman and is so relatable.

I’m a little older than the target demographic here and I still learned things – I can’t help but recommend this book to teenagers (I knew very little of all this when I was a teenager).

If you liked this book, you’ll also love Girl Up by Laura Bates, This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson and Animal by Sara Pascoe.

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annalsie

On *THAT* Telegraph Article – Portrayal of SEX in YA

This morning (afternoon?), Twitter has been ablaze with talk of an article that was published in the Telegraph attacking the Zoella Book Club choices because of their portrayal of sex.

If you haven’t given it a read, you can find it here.

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The gist of the article is that these books are BAD for teenage girls because of the way they portray sex.

The article labels all YA literature as ‘fluffy, joyful escapism’ when, in reality, a lot of the books on the list deal with mental health issues, and are a little more serious and well researched than a smutty romance novel. The idea that YA readers are reading absolute fluff is an outdated one – the genre is incredibly diverse and pioneering, and many recent books have been a little harrowing. While ‘sick lit’ has been demonised in the press, the explosion of books surrounding mental health issues and including LGBT characters has simply, to my knowledge, not been echoed in the wider fiction market.

A lot of the books I’ve recently read in YA are not fluffy romances – they’re tackling difficult issues, ones that simply aren’t discussed in mainstream education.

That’s not to say that the author of this article is wrong. The portrayal of virginity and slut-shaming in YA still has far to go, but the problem doesn’t lie with any one individual book. Just like the ‘dark romance’ days of YA normalised the idea that a dark, mysterious bad boy  is probably a secret sweetheart who will win your father’s affection and then also turn you into a vampire, portrayal of virginity as a whole as a ‘gift’ and something you can ‘lose’ to someone else – the idea that your sexual identity is something someone else can alter and take away from you – is still problematic.

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Again, it isn’t the fault of just one book, but when the media, your culture, even your religion is telling you that virginity is something you shouldn’t consider losing lightly, and that you should only give to someone special (despite the same sources telling boys the opposite), it’s no wonder many girls make a huge deal out of it. That isn’t YA’s fault (and it isn’t necessarily a problem), but YA could do more to change the rhetoric. It’s an uphill battle against pretty much all other forms of media, but if YA is anything, it is progressive.

We unfortunately live in a society which teaches girls that sex should be painful for them, that they won’t enjoy it, and the only thing that matter is that the man ejaculates. That isn’t the fault of YA, it’s a problem with society itself.

On the other hand, we often see dream-like portrayals of sex in contemporary romance (fantasy romance like ACOMAF gets a free pass in my book) where first-time sex is a brilliant unity of souls culminating in an explosive (but definitely not sticky!) simultaneous orgasm. This, again, is problematic, but in a different way.

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(I’d also like to say that virginity is an interesting concept when it comes to non-heterosexual couples, which are often ignored in the general media, but I do feel YA is getting there with LGBT representation. It isn’t perfect, and I would LOVE to see virginity dealt with in a book about LGBT characters – if you know any books that do deal with this, let me know!)

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Back to the article, I agree with Emma Oulton’s comments that teenage girls are being failed a proper sex education (in fact, I feel like PSHE itself is completely lacking – we need better mental health education, better political education and better health education in general – especially women’s health, periods and the like) and Young Adult literature is an art form that can help tackle this chronic miseducation. The Zoella Book Club choices are a little narrow (in that they tend to focus on mental health issues, and there is no inclusion of LGBT characters, for example), but I do honestly feel that future book clubs could diversify, and there would have been outrage against these books if they dealt with some of the more controversial topics that often feature in YA (for example, Louise O’Neill’s brilliant Asking For It).

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At the end of the day, Zoella  has a brilliant opportunity to bring books to the masses of teenage girls that focus on some hard-hitting issues. The books she has chosen aren’t ‘fluffy’, and it’s improper to attack the authors of these books for one sentence in their work – but on the other hand, we as a genre need to be addressing the issue that is the portrayal of virginity ( as well as many other important portrayals), and we have a brilliant opportunity to fight back against the lack of education on these topics.

What are your thoughts on the article? Have you read any of the Zoella Book Club choices? Tweet me at @annalisebooks or comment below!

Annalise x

Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

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The Girls by Emma Cline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

**Disclaimer: Copy received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

The Girls is the story of Evie, a 14-year-old recovering from her parents’ divorce and falling out with her best friend, Connie. The year is 1969, and soon she is enthralled by Suzanne, an older girl who lives at a rundown ranch in poverty, with a few other girls, all of whom worship one man, Russell. Based on the story of Charles Manson and the Manson girls, this is a hard-hitting book of a childhood filled with sex, drugs, and cult worship, and ultimately, murder. This isn’t just a story though – it is also a social commentary on the role of girls and the expectations flung upon them.

Emma Cline’s writing is beautiful, full of metaphors and insights that make this world so clear. This book is a little intellectual (definitely not Young Adult though told through a teenager’s eyes), and takes place in two timestreams – present day, where Evie is ambling along, imposed upon by a teenage couple who are up to no good, and California, 1969, when Evie was enthralled by a cult. The events of 1969 still clearly haunt her to this day, and so this story is really the one of her making – how her actions as a girl have impacted on her entire life.

This is the second Manson-based book I’ve read this month(!) – the other being My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger (review here) which is a YA book of a similar dark tone, but this time about a teenager researching the Manson girls. This book is a lot grittier (it is an adult novel, after all), and gets a little more into the action of this story, told by someone who was actually there.

The Girls is a dark summer read, dancing with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and with flecks of a real-life horror that gripped America.

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Annalise x

Review: Forever by Judy Blume

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Forever by Judy Blume

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Forever is a story about a teenager’s first love and first time (having sex). Katherine and Michael are two older teenagers who meet, hit it off, and start dating. He wants to have sex with her, she’s not entirely sure if she wants to, but then she agrees and they do it. There are no horrific consequences – she doesn’t get pregnant, she doesn’t catch an STD, and she doesn’t die – and this is what sets it apart from other books depicting this kind of story (at least at the time it was published).

The story is a fairly realistic depiction of teenage romance – actual teenage romance without a paranormal element and rainbows and fireworks if and when the main characters have sex. There are scenes where both main characters acquire contraception – something a lot of YA writers leave out, because it ruins the romance of it all. This is where the book really excels – and why it is still a bestseller today – it’s realistic. There’s premature ejaculation and awkwardness and the whole ‘making-a-big-deal-of-it-all’ aspect of high school. Katherine and Michael are not soulmates (although they believe it at the time) and their relationship doesn’t even last the summer. Sure, there are people who marry their first boyfriend and live happily ever after, but it just isn’t the norm in real life (although it seems to be in YA). Michael’s had sex before, and I’d love to see more of this in fiction – real, experienced characters, especially girls. Every YA heroine seems to be an innocent virgin, and every villain is a sexually promiscuous bad girl – and it only reinforces slut-shaming and the idea that once you’ve had sex your personality miraculously changes.

The whole story is pretty progressive. Kath’s parents would rather have her having sex at home that god-knows-where, and her grandmother sends her pamphlets on all-sorts of relevant information – abortion and contraception. There’s a character questioning his sexuality and experimenting. There’s an attempted suicide, due to said questioning. It’s only disappointing that, forty years after this book was first published, so much of the story is relevant today. Teenagers are still having sex (shock horror), but there’s still controversy around non-heterosexual characters, abortion, and even just sex in general in YA fiction. In Kath’s world, there is no shame over having sex, using contraception, having an abortion – they’re seen as sensible, responsible choices. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world just yet.

Forever is known for being teenage girls’ first read of realistic sex. The topics involved (and the age of the main characters) suggest this book is for older girls, but the writing style is simplistic, and I almost felt a little too old to be reading it. The whole plot seems a little undercooked – at only 200 pages long, I would have happily read a book with a bit more padding. Some really interesting sub-plots are touched on briefly – Sybil’s hidden pregnancy, Jamie’s first experiences of love, and Artie’s possible homosexuality – which really would have brought the book into its own had they been expanded on. I think the tone and style of the book is really a remnant of the era in which it was first published – it reminds me a lot of the books I read published in the 1980s and 1990s, like Animal Ark and The Babysitters Club, rather than the high-octane paranormal fantasy romances that dominate YA today.

Ultimately, this is a book written to teach girls about safe, realistic sex. It more than achieves in that aim – and it’s a testament that girls are still reading it today. If it was a little longer, maybe those who don’t normally read, wouldn’t bother to read it.

I would kind of love to see a new Forever on the market though – a cult bestseller written today that portrays sex and being a teenager realistically. I’d also like to see a book that touches on the same theme but is aimed at boys – Forever is told through a girl’s perspective (as many YA novels are), and I’d be interested to read something from the other side for once!

(Also, my 2015 copy has a lovely design (a simple cherry) which isn’t as cheesy as some of the others and has red gilded edges)

Did you enjoy Forever? Do you have any recommendations? Tweet me at @annalisebooks or comment below 🙂

Annalise x

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